Arts and Culture

Everything You Need to Know About the New Tattered Cover

Derek Holland is the manager of the new Tattered Cover.
Derek Holland is the manager of the new Tattered Cover. Lucy Beaugard
Denver residents and book fans everywhere lamented when news broke in 2019 that the Tattered Cover store that had occupied an old warehouse on the 16th Street Mall would be moving a few blocks to new digs in the then-under-construction McGregor Square. While owners Len Vlahos and Kristen Gilligan explained that the move was a good business decision, a lot of memories had been made during the store's fifteen years in that spot. And in a town that was seemingly transforming overnight, the 16th Street space — even though it had already been downsized from the several-floor store then-owner Joyce Meskis had opened in 1994 — was something we'd grown to depend on as an immutable downtown landmark.

But then the changes kept coming for Tattered Cover, which changed hands in late December.

And now, on June 12, the public will finally get to see the McGregor Square store, opening under new CEO Kwame Spearman and a team of investors. When longtime Tattered patrons walk in, they'll find plenty of traditions to embrace, a few things to wonder about, and at least one thing to downright loathe. Here's a sneak peek:

Location, Location, Location

Being right off the 16th Street Mall shuttle made the previous location an easy-to-get-to destination; this one is a little more of a trek from Union Station and the mall. Neither the old nor the new location have great parking — but let's face it, pandemic aside, parking downtown hasn't been easy in decades. McGregor Square, a ball's throw from Coors Field, is part of Rockies owner Dick Monfort's efforts to bring more life to the neighborhood. Rockies fans will now be able to pick up a book on their way to the ballpark and read it during slow stretches; club-goers heading to Beta Event Center and diners heading to a LoDo restaurant can also browse the shelves ahead of their festivities. Of course.

There's Still a Little Green Carpeting

Anyone who's been to one of the primary Tattered Cover shops since the ’90s has walked over the green carpeting marked by a history of muddy shoes and coffee spills. The floors of the new store do have some of that carpeting as a nod to that past, but most of the space is covered in hardwood, offering a more modern look and the possibility of cleaner floors than at either the East Colfax Avenue or 16th Street Mall shops.
Kwame Spearman is Tattered Cover's new CEO. - YUMI MATSUO
Kwame Spearman is Tattered Cover's new CEO.
Yumi Matsuo

A New Direction

Just as the floors honor tradition but also look toward the future, Spearman is trying to balance the best of the past with a fresh approach. He's well-positioned to put his background in the tech industry to work and unfurl his plans in the years ahead: innovate and find ways to ensure that the Tattered Cover isn't just a nostalgic institution from an analog age, but also a vibrant, forward-thinking business willing to embrace change. A more corporate approach than that of previous owners? Sure, but one that may be necessary in new Denver.

A Racial Reckoning

Spearman came into the position shortly after activists launched a boycott of the Tattered Cover
because of its ham-handed rollout of a non-statement about Black Lives Matter protests against killer cops. But he and the other new owners, who asserted that the shop was now the largest Black-owned bookstore in the country because Spearman is Black (though most of the others are white), were promptly blasted by Black booksellers nationwide. In the months that followed, the store doubled down on its commitment to hiring diverse workers, offering diversity and inclusivity trainings, and even launching its Hue-Man Experience line, a selection of books by Black authors that honors the Denver bookstore once owned by Clara Villarosa, who's curating the series.

click to enlarge The new Tattered Cover offers more sunlight than other locations. - KYLE HARRIS
The new Tattered Cover offers more sunlight than other locations.
Kyle Harris

Big Windows

The two-story shop has plenty of natural sunlight, which longtime downtown store manager Derek Holland was thrilled to point out. There is one concern, though, and that is that all those rays could damage the covers of books that don't move off the shelves. "We might not know for a year," he says, but Tattered managers are already having conversations about shades or other tactics for blocking the glare. That sun will do wonders in the winter to keep shoppers warm, but during hot summer days, they could also turn the TC into a sultry greenhouse.

Bookshelf Design

Around 130 of the bookshelves in the new Tattered Cover were repurposed from the 16th Street Mall store — and some of those came from the long-gone Cherry Creek location that old-timers have been mourning since it closed in 2006. That means there's plenty of history here. But with so many windows, the business also had to construct some new shelves that were shorter and accommodated the low windows. While the store is designed to give people some sense of privacy as they browse, it also offers a more open layout that makes connecting with friends and family in other sections easier than at the 16th Street Mall location.

The Grand Stairway

The new Tattered Cover is two stories, and the staircase between them echoes the staircase at the Cherry Creek shop, giving patrons a historic walk from the first to second floors. The shop also has an elevator for those who prefer it.

Magazines Will Return

We've missed browsing the Tattered Cover's massive selection of magazines that were pulled from circulation during the pandemic. Holland says they'll be back soon, which is a blessing for us all.
click to enlarge The windows at the new Tattered Cover. - KYLE HARRIS
The windows at the new Tattered Cover.
Kyle Harris

Brown to Green Walls

Longtime Tattered Cover owner Meskis insisted that the books be the focus at the Tattered Cover, says Holland. She didn't want the walls to be covered in distracting art, and she didn't want the employees to stick out. Everything must be focused on the books — which is why she painted many of the walls brown. In the new building, many of the walls are painted that Tattered Cover green, and it works well. Tattered is also now looking at promoting local artists.

The Font Stays the Same

There is something comforting about a never-changing font; it's easy on the eyes and soothes the soul. Between those familiar signs and the stained wooden bookshelves, this new store still looks, feels and smells like the Tattered we're pretty sure it really is.

Starbucks? Really?

Is there a company in the United States that represents the obliteration of local coffee shops more than that Seattle scourge, Starbucks? Sadly, the new Tattered Cover axed the bookstore's own coffee shop and replaced it with an adjacent corporate monstrosity (at least Starbucks green sort of matches the carpet). Not only will we miss the M&M, sprinkled and chocolate chip cookies, but we will also be sad to no longer shmooze about books, coffee and the weather with the friendly baristas who always put up with us on our chattiest of days.
click to enlarge Inside the new Tattered Cover at McGregor Square. - LUCY BEAUGARD
Inside the new Tattered Cover at McGregor Square.
Lucy Beaugard

Nobody Knows What Joyce Meskis Will Think

For decades, Joyce Meskis was instrumental in shaping so much of what Denver loves about this small chain of local bookshops. Holland, who's curious about what she'll think, says she has yet to stop by the McGregor Square store. Will she approve?

The Future Looks Bright

It's not just the sunlight pouring through the windows that's causing you to squint: Despite the corporate coffee chain squatting next door, the future of the Tattered Cover as a company is bright. Spearman tells us that the Colfax Avenue location in the historic Lowenstein Theater, which became pretty tattered during the pandemic, is due for some refreshing; that shop can better honor the history of the building through its design, he says. The lease there comes up for renewal in a couple of years, and if Spearman has his way, the store will stay there as long as it can. While we'll continue to shop there and also plan to frequent the McGregor Square store, we're also eager to shop at the new children's-oriented Tattered Cover coming to Stanley Marketplace in a few weeks. And after that? We can't wait to see the next chapter for Tattered Cover; it promises to be a real page-turner.

For more information, go to the Tattered Cover website.
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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris